Amie Dobinson - Law & Human Rights in Ghana
The place and people
This was my first time volunteering abroad and as expected I was very nervous before I boarded the plane. What first attracted me to Ghana was the Ghanaian culture, food, music and people. And it exceeded my expectations. First and foremost Ghanaians are the friendliest people I have ever met so you will never feel unwelcome whilst you are staying in this country. I stayed with a wonderful couple called Nelly and Grant Sam who made Ghana a home from home and cooked the most amazing Ghanaian dishes. Nelly has given me her recipes but I have failed to do them justice.
I volunteered on the Human Rights project. The placement involved a lot of independent research and learning which was challenging yet very rewarding. I went to Ghana with little knowledge of Human Rights issues in West Africa so it was difficult to imagine what I would be faced with. The Projects Abroad office is situated just outside the capital city Accra and was the hub of our work. A typical working day would begin at 8.30am and finish around 4pm. However most of the time working in Ghana wasn’t spent in the office we were out ‘in the field’ so to speak being very proactive about our work.
I didn’t expect the Human Rights programme to be so hands-on so it was a very welcomed surprise when after the first day I was hurried to Obuasi to discuss environmental rights with community elders. The range of work does vary and the more you put into it the more you get out. The work that I got involved in was interesting, fun and extremely diverse. One week I could be advocating better Human Rights for communities suffering at the hands of mining pollution, and then the next week I would be establishing contacts with other NGOs to start a national campaign to end child prostitution and trafficking. Not to mention the work we did across refugee camps, schools and prayer camps. Believe me the work is tiring but you really do feel a sense of achievement on this project.
What I did
There are always exciting things to do during the week and at weekends after a hard day at work. Accra is the capital city so there are endless markets, spot bars and cultural places to visit. The best market for grabbing last minute souvenirs is the cultural centre in Accra which is lined with beautiful jewellery, handmade dresses and immaculately crafted ornaments. You must brush up on your bartering skills before you come to Ghana, they drive a hard bargain! I managed to swap my mobile phone for 16kg concrete elephant which is currently being shipped back to England...
One thing that you will not fail to miss is the music in Ghana. Music is a pillar that holds Ghana up and the buzzing backdrop of reggae, hip hop and rap creates a magical ambiance wherever you are. I recommend (strongly!) that you check out the reggae beach party on a Wednesday night at La Badi and Bywells on a Thursday where dancing will continue into the early hours and the Rastas can teach you a dance move or two! Kokrobite has an amazing Ghanaian party atmosphere on a Saturday.
At weekends volunteers will normally pack up a few belongings and go off travelling together around Ghana. There is so much to see that it is hard to fit it all in. Cape coast is a popular tourist location; a visit to the slave castles and museums is a must. Aburi Botanic Garden and Wli Water Falls are perfect to escape into nature especially if you have a swim under the waterfall. If you can hack long bus journeys then head up north to Tamale to visit the famous Larabanga Mosque and Mole National Park – a little tip: Beware of the elephants, stampedes come without warning!
Before you know it you’ll be sitting on the back of a tro-tro (method of public transport) singing alone to Bob Marley ‘three little birds’ and buying food from outside your window forgetting that you are in Africa. The Ghanaian way of life is so infectious that you forget you’re over 3,000 miles away from home.
Volunteering with Projects Abroad is the best thing I have ever done and I recommend it to everyone.